Friday, May 14, 2010

a memory so clear it's as if you're still before me


Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I've done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit, to mem'ry now I cannot recall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Of all the comrades that ere I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts that ere I had , would wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,
I will gently rise and I'll softly call: "Goodnight and joy be with you all" -The Parting Glass
Every narrative has a backstory. Last Friday I attended a funeral for someone with whom I had quite a backstory.
Fare thee well my bright star, I watched your taillights blaze into nothingness - E. Sailers

This is from something I wrote four years ago...

On December the 5th (which was a Wednesday) 2000 my boyfriend got into a car accident...that claimed our relationship and his old life...

I was almost 21 and he was 19.

Dustin was effortless. He was fluid. Everyone wanted to be his friend. He made you feel like you were the only one in the world when he was talking to you. And he was caustically funny.

Not only people loved him, the stage loved him as well. He was an amazing actor, I remember the first time I saw him onstage. He was 16 and I was 19 & in-love. He was the lead (Eugene) in Brighton Beach Memoirs...lines upon lines upon lines, flawless delivery-ultimate believability.

I told him later once we began dating, in a way that I thought was sweepingly romantic that I had fallen in love with him that night. I was expecting him to say something equally romantic. Instead he said quietly in my ear “pervert”.

He had a way.

He had a ton of friends. He was always on his cell phone. He was gorgeous and attentive and fun as hell. One time we got lost on our way home from a play at Emporia State, we ended up in a small town in KS neither of us had been to. He gets out of the car and goes into a local bingo hall, not to ask directions, but to get a little old lady to take our picture, because we'd “never been to Olpe Kansas before.”

The night he planned to come and see me I was in a bad mood. I was stressed because it was almost finals and Dustin never took schoolwork seriously. He just wanted to spread his arms and fly.

He habitually drove too fast, because he was always a few minutes late. And his skin was always a few degrees warmer than mine. He ran hot.

He didn't have an ID...this was because a year back he had tried to make it into a fake ID and failed, so the hologram busted the whole ID. So he had never gotten around to getting a new DL. I had left my wallet in his car over Thanksgiving break. I left it on the floorboard of the passenger side of his white brand new Honda Accord. It was my black K-State bi-fold wallet.

He was just going to drive the hour drive to see me, spend the night, and return my wallet. Even though I was grouchy when he called, he told me that he wanted to see me, told me he loved me and would see me soon. He was on the road.

My exit is #303. He called me on his cell phone. He was at exit #277. That was the last time he talked to me. He said it was beginning to snow and was getting slick. I said “slow down” he said “Chill babe, love you”. I fell asleep waiting for him (this seems strange to me now, now that I am riddled by anxiety when anyone I care about is late to anything).

I woke up to the phone. It was late. I thought "here he is telling me he ran into a friend at the gas station in town and he'll be over in a bit." it was Srgt. Burgess of the highway patrol. He told me that they'd found an unidentified accident victim with my ID, did I know who it was. His accident was at exit 295. I said "is he okay?" Srg. Burgess said he didn't know, but it was the way he said it that told me another story.

Numb. I answered questions on auto-pilot, told them how to get a hold of Glen, told them his birthdate, and his name. I called my 2 best gf's, Amanda and Jessica that went to school with me. They drove me to exit 295, to the hospital that Dustin was at. I called my parents. They came to get me, to take me half way across the state where they would be air-lifting my boyfriend to. He wasn't conscious. He was in awful shape. He might not live.

They gave me Valium.

I cried to a respiratory tech who was about 25 years old with a tongue ring until he finally let me see him just for a second, he told me I could walk beside him to the helicopter. He was wrapped up in a bright blue sleeping bag. That was the last time I saw him...him when he looked like "himself". I tried not to cry. I told him that I loved him. I remember telling him that they had him locked up tighter than a government secret. I told him he'd be okay.

They gave me a bag. It had his clothes, they were a mess and had been cut off of him. He was wearing the outfit I'd given him for his birthday exactly a month prior. It also had his wallet and his cell phone.

Even to this day, I think about that. He listened to his grouchy girlfriend, put on the outfit she just bought him and went to cheer her up, spend a little bit of time with her. This to me is sweepingly romantic. And unfortunately poignant.

My step-dad took me home to Salina. My mom then drove me to Wichita. I skipped my final exams. I have my one and only ‘F’ of my educational career for that experience. When I was asked about this grade in the grad school interview I thought it sounded to bizarre to explain, so I just lied and said someone in my family died. It didn’t sound real to me and I lived it.

They kept me sedated. Not so sedate that I didn't cry though. There were many tears. I just wanted him to wake up.

He had traumatic brain injury, he had broken bones, a collapsed lung, a rupturing spleen....cuts bruises. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt. I was irate when I was informed of this, then I realized the futility of being angry.

Surgeries...surgeries....almosts and not quites. He was in a medical induced coma for 3 months...and then he didn't wake up for 3 more. When he did wake up he couldn't speak, or walk...or remember.

I stayed in Wichita until spring semester started, and after that I would drive up nearly every weekend and stay until I had to return for class (I only took 2 classes that sememster and they were both on Tuesday and Thursday). Finally they could move him from SICU to the regular floor, it was bliss because we could visit him more. And it meant he was getting better. I just wanted him to wake up.

Before he really did wake up he was in this half-awake state. He was agitated. He lost tons of weight. He would lay in his hospital bed and thrash violently from side to side. He looked skinny and awful and blank.

They told me he'd never really wake up. There was a speech pathologist who came in briefly one day (very briefly) when he was in this quasi-conscious state. The SLP came up to his gaze and told him to say "ahhh". Dustin did not respond. He tried a few more vowel sound instructions. Dustin did not respond. Then he promptly announced in front of his patient, myself and Dustin's father Glen: "He cannot speak."

I was an undergraduate student majoring in Speech Pathology. I had just taken Anatomy of the Speech Mechanism. My free time in college was spent in the speech lab watching therapists work with stroke victims and kiddos with speech problems. I knew from all of that, that vowel sounds are some of the most complex sounds. I told both Dustin and Glen that the guy was ridiculous.

So for days and days I worked with Dustin. Glen would sit in the back of the room and read. His mom would comb his hair and I would work with him to move his lips. One weekend when Glen was at the corner of the room in the easy chair I was working Dustin again. He might have been annoyed that I would never leave him alone, but that day he mouthed "I love you" clear as daylight to me. Our hearts began to swell with hope and joy. And again, they moved him. This time to a rehabilitation center. This really meant he was getting better!

Dustin woke up, for real at spring break of that year of college. He could talk. He remembered bits and pieces of everything. He remembered me, he gathered that I was his girlfriend, that I loved him...He couldn't remember "us" though, not really.

He had trouble with his short term memory. I'd leave the room to go to the bathroom and have to retell him everything. He was depressed, emotional and unsure of himself. He couldn't remember me, at least not as his girlfriend. One day he asked me "Did I love you?" Nothing has ever stung like that.

When someone dies you know right away, when a part of someone dies it's different. There was this person, living in my boyfriend’s body, with his voice...and yet I didn't know him and he didn't know me. And I didn't know what to do with that.

And so it is. It was the worst feeling I've ever had to break off the relationship. And all this time I have not wanted to fall in love quite like that again.

And I feel guilty. I feel like it's my fault. Still after 6 years. I am so sad and feel so responsible. Even though it's illogical. Even though I would tell my own client that it wasn't their fault. I didn't make him come, in fact I asked him not to. I didn't make it snow.

I hate that our relationship became defined by the accident. There was so much joy before that. He called me “sweets”. He was basically wonderful. We loved each other. He taught me more than I can put into words and he introduced some wonderful people into my life.
fare thee well my bright star
the vanity of youth the color of your eyes
maybe if I'd fanned the blazing fire of your day to day
or if I'd been older I'd been wise - E. Sailers
After the funeral I couldn't bear to change clothes, because I had the strongest urge to drive to Wichita to a hospital. I was stuck in a moment, but I was in the wrong place. It was 1 am before I got the feeling to subside, but only for awhile. It all feels wrong.

Part of what helped me a little was to hear wonderful things about Dustin. He went back to acting, only 3 years after his accident. He also found love and got married. This truly made me happy. So when I heard through the social networking grapevine that he was struggling with depression and then that he had taken his life it seems like it had to be someone else. That once again, he will wake up and beat the odds. One breath after I think that, I realize it's not true this time. It's also as though I don't know what is present and what is past at times.

So I found myself at a funeral for a man, who in part, I had lost almost 10 years ago. I found myself wondering that if I let myself feel my feelings I would be somehow invalidating other people's feelings. Or that I was in someway invalidating his last 10 years.

It wasn't that at all, it is all valid. For each of us, no matter what part of Dustin we loved: the before, the after, the inbetween, and now. So instead of fretting I am trying hard to remember all the times he told me to relax. I am trying hard not to apologize for feeling this way. I am trying hard.

fare thee well my bright star
it was a brief brilliant miracle dive
that which I looked up to and I clung to for dear life
had to burn itself up just to make itself alive
I caught you then in your moment of glory
your last dramatic scene against a night sky stage
with a memory so clear it's as if you're still before me
my once in a lifetime star of an age - E. Sailers
If you read this all, whew... thank you (and you should rest your eyes for awhile & forgive my subject-verb agreement and possibly tenses of verbs), I needed to say it and this was the place I felt it was most appropriate.

title courtesy of the Indigo Girls: Fare thee well

5 comments:

Breann said...

i love you, my dear sweet friend.

Sarah said...

Shan, I am so sorry for you loss...both times. I knew the story, but I am sitting here crying for you again. It's tragic and I hurt for you. I love you.

Mellissa Rudder, MT, future MPH Candidate said...

I love you Shan . . . and am holding you closer than close . . . ((squiish))

Tami said...

such a difficult thing to deal with at such a young age Shan....it's like you lost him twice...xoxo

Lisa said...

I check your blog often but this morning is the first time I had enough quiet time to myself to read this whole thing.

I don't really know what to say except that I am very sorry for your loss.....and for the pain you went through before....and that this is such a sad and unique story.......but that doesn't capture what I want to say or what I felt reading this story. I think if I could, I would just hug you. One of those long, comforting, it's-all-gonna-be-okay hugs.

Love you.